They raised their rates, and???

I’ve been following all of the Twitter talk about the recent moves by Philly Car Share.  As a very loyal and frequent user of the service, am I upset by the manner in which they handled their recent fee increase notification?  Hell yes, I am!   But the vitrolic criticism being levied against a service that not long ago was everyone’s darling is, in my opinion, a clear indicator of the fickleness of our society today.

Yes, they eliminated their basic free plan in favor of a $15 per month charge and they did it with only a week’s notice to their members.  Yes, they screwed up royally in the PR, common sense and “let’s all play nice” departments.  Yes, there are limitless questions about the way the company has been managed which led them to a point where they are quite obviously in a precarious financial position.  However, what too many people appear to be failing to remember is that for all of their “let’s all be one big happy family” early intentions, what they are providing is a service which is inherently dependent on other businesses.   They have insurance, fleet rental, gas, vehicle maintenance, vehicle repair, inspection and overall operating costs to balance with their altruistic intents.

Given their original demeanor and the behavior they led us to expect, would it have been better for them to be more transparent.  Yes, of course it would have been.  Are they going to lose members because of how they handled the situation.  Absolutely, probably several.  But to quote my friend @tangofoxtrot “But $15 a month – how many beers is that? To have access to a car with almost no notice, pretty close to most places….I think people are confusing business relationships with personal ones.”   I agree completely.

If everyone would stop and think for just a moment what a car costs monthly – car payments, insurance, maintenance, repairs, gas and inspections.  What would that cost be monthly for you?  I know for me, it was hundreds of dollars.  Far in excess of what I will spend with Philly Car Share, even the $15 per month charge and even if I use a car several times a month.   Ok, before everyone gets in an uproar about “I can’t afford the $15 per month”.  That is true for some people and in that case, maybe there are better options for those people, but in general, is that $15 a month for the convenience going to really hurt most of us?  Other than hurt feelings because we think that PCS “didn’t play fair”, probably not.
Does Philly Car Share need to know how we feel about it’s actions?  Yes, they do.  Are there more constructive ways to do it. Yes probably.  The rash of membership cancellations are probably going to be a pretty clear message.   As for me, I’m sticking with them.  So I have a couple less drinks each month to now fit the $15 charge in my budget, so be it.   PCS has never let me down with availability or customer service so I am willing to hang in there and hope they work out their issues.  And Philly Car Share, if you are listening and interested in a little friendly advice or help, let me know.  I believe in you and want to see you succeed.


  1. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying here, really, except your conclusion that it makes sense to stick with them. Unless they grow up an awful lot as a result of this incident, it’s throwing good money after bad when there is a professionally run alternative in town.

    Well, one other point of disagreement: they can’t put themselves out there as a nonprofit, world-saving organization rather than a business in the traditional sense (which they did) and then expect people not to view it as a “personal” rather than “business” relationship. When you market yourselves as the good guys, you’re held to that standard… something Google, Apple et al. keep very much in mind when they make PR decisions.


    • Tom,

      I am not defending how they handled the situation. It was poorly handled. I am basing my decision to stick with them on my own prior experiences. I have had good customer service and they have provided me with something I needed at a more than reasonable price given their expenses. I have experience in the insurance and car leasing fields and am more aware than maybe some of the potential issues and expenses they face. Should we have held them to a higher standard based on the way they put themselves out there, probably. Did they hold up to that standard, not necessarily. I am hopeful, however, that they will learn a lesson from this experience. Trust me, I will be among the first to call them on it if they do not.


  2. Best thing I saw today. Zipcar is a predatory company that charges double what they do in Philly in other cities…Why? To run them out of business. No one else offers a free membership and PCS needs to compete in this bad economy. The lack of notice and condescending e-mail suck but it’s not that horrible. Everyone wants to go to Zipcar, send their money out of state, for what…they have no free membership either!!!!


  3. I’m not upset that they are charging 15/month I understand business models. I’m more upset with forcing people into this model even if they rarely use the service. I had the service as a side thing in case I need it. I’ve used the service once in the past 4 months. It was useful when I needed it. But that’s how my usage is. Why would i want to pay monthly for a service that I rarely need or use. I would rather see a prepay option or continue w/ the pay as you go. It’s friendlier to those of us who my occasionally need a pick-up truck to move something. That’s how you do a proper business model, instead of lump summing everyone into the same usage category.


  4. I understand it’s a business. However, when you talk about how much you care about your members and sustainable vision, and then to turn around and handle something major like that /so poorly/, I think it’s reflective of the organization as a whole and the problems contained within. Obviously an expensive proposition as car sharing is NOT sustainable as a non-profit organization; at least, not in the way PCS has attempted to sustain it.

    Plus, although I can’t confirm truth either way, Philebrity reported that 30 of their cars were repo’d on Friday as well. The organization is obviously in dire straits, and the large amount of cancellations due to their poor handling of the situation is obviously not going to help matters.

    So now you have to ask: If they’re getting cars repo’d, and are in such a bad financial situation that they’re going to compromise on their public image in order to try and stimulate cash flow in a hurry, why would I want to rely on this organization? What similar tactics will they pull in the future? Will they still be here in a year? In 6 months? In 3 months?

    So I’m not going to come to rely on access to a service which is quite clearly unable to sustain itself, let alone its vision.

    Third, there has been absolutely no attempt at damage control from PCS on this front. Meanwhile, Zipcar is waiving the application fee and offering 50% off the yearly rate for new members in Philadelphia. As a for-profit company, I’d like to believe that Zipcar at least has SOME interest in retaining members and staying afloat. They pull the same shady tactics as PCS down the road, who knows. But the fact that they sponsored the Philadelphia Film Festival and have already reached out to disgruntled PCS users has put them a step ahead on the PR front.


  5. I am only an occasional user of PCS. We used it as a second car when needed. I thought the way PCS handled this was shameful. When I called on the phone minutes after I received the email I got a nasty operator who told me, “well you can’t get anything for free”. I never wanted anything for free. I paid to use the car the 3 times I needed it last year. Heck I even filled the tank because I received it with under a 1/4 tank of gas.

    If they were in such financial straights why didn’t they try other tactics before it got too bad. Even going to their loyal members with the truth. Instead they are going to loose the little money people like me bring in. Heck I would of paid $50 a year for membership as an “occasional users” but now it is cheaper for me to call Enterprise when I need a second car. I really believed in PSC. I am so disappointed.


  6. A couple of thoughts: One, if PCS goes, Zipcar will have less competition and what do you suppose will happen to their rates? Two, this may be a good indicator of the dangers inherent, both for businesses and customers, of a big emphasis on how community-minded a company is. It is true that quite a few companies, among them for-profits, do contribute to their communities in materially significant ways. We all appreciate and like to patronize a business that shows a generous side, and that is a good thing. But no one should be under any illusion that the underlying relationship is other than one of vendor and customer. Three: how much is the amazing convenience of the instant-rental business worth to you? That is a question that users need to answer, regardless of the vendor.


  7. I use to work for PCS. They have been making these kind of decisions from the hip for awhile now (and I had fought against my entire time there). This is one of the things the new “upper management” slammed Tanya & Clayton for & swore would never happen again now that “they” were in charge. All they had to do was make this change take effect June 1, not May 1. Even if people didn’t like the change they would have dealt with it… this just comes off as one more shady move.


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